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Crisis In Seoul As North Korean Process Bogs Down

A emergency delivery of food aid to North Korea form South Korea.South Korea Urges North Korea To Scrap Nuclear Weapons And Fight Poverty Instead
Seoul (AFP) Jan 02 - South Korea urged North Korea Tuesday to scrap its nuclear weapons and focus on overcoming dire poverty in 2007. In a New Year message, Unification Minister Lee Jae-Joung -- in charge of relations with the North -- called on the hardline communist state to cooperate with the South to lift living standards. "As the world's 10th largest economy, South Korea must shoulder the burden to save North Korea from dire poverty," said Lee.

"Peace will not be ensured on the Korean peninsula unless North Korea finds a fundamental solution to poverty. "Nuclear weapons or a nuclear program will not provide security for North Korea. They should know their security and safety will be guaranteed if they overcome poverty through inter-Korean reconciliation, cooperation and co-prosperity." North Korea suffered famine for several years starting in 1995 which killed hundreds of thousands of people. Its people still suffer persistent food shortages.

In July South Korea suspended regular aid shipments worth millions of dollars in protest at the North's missile tests that month. The North halted inter-Korean dialogue in protest at the suspension. South Korea has said it would resume distribution of aid, mostly food and fertilizer, only if North Korea remains sincere about abandoning its nuclear weapons drive. Six-nation nuclear disarmament talks resumed last month for the first time in 13 months but ended in apparent deadlock. The talks took on added urgency after North Korea conducted its first nuclear weapons test in October. Photo courtesy AFP

by Lee Jong-Heon
UPI Correspondent
Seoul (UPI) Jan. 3, 2007
South Korea is under a policy dispute over how to deal with North Korea following controversial remarks by Seoul's pointman on Pyongyang who hinted at massive economic aid to the communist neighbor despite its nuclear threats. The country's powerful opposition party on Wednesday called for the resignation of Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung and raised suspicions that his push for economic aid to the North was aimed at staging an inter-Korean summit to influence South Korea's presidential election later this year.

The Grand National Party also said it would seek to submit a no-confidence motion to unseat Lee, who took office last month as South Korea's top North Korea policymaker.

Lee stirred controversy on Tuesday when he affirmed his determination to help alleviate poverty in North Korea, citing poverty as one of main factors behind Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"(South Korea) must accept its responsibility of (helping) North Korea out of poverty because we are the same people, and (the South) is the tenth largest world economy and a $300-billion-exporting nation," Lee said.

"Peace will not be ensured on the Korean peninsula unless North Korea finds a fundamental solution to poverty," he said. Lee also added poverty is one of the reasons for North Korea to seek nuclear weapons.

North Korea has long suffered from poverty and the trouble has worsened since the mid-1990s when a nationwide flood and an ensuing famine led to the deaths of more than 2 million people. The poverty has forced it to swallow its much-touted pride of "juche" (self-reliance) to appeal for international handouts to feed its 23 million people.

Relief agencies warn North Korea could be facing severe food shortages in the coming months due to crop loss in the wake of severe flooding in July 2006 and reduced aid from the international community following its missile and nuclear tests.

South Korea has suspended regular aid shipments since July in protest against the North's missile tests that month. In return, the North has halted inter-Korean dialogue.

Late last month, Lee said his government was considering resuming aid shipments to the North to revive cross-border talks, stressing inter-Korean dialogue is necessary to resolve the North's nuclear problem. "The government has a principle to resume North-South dialogue at the earliest date possible," he said.

The GNP accused Lee of being pro-North Korean, saying his remarks on economic aid despite the nuclear crisis were "extremely shocking."

"It is absurd to provide economic assistance to North Korea when the problem of nuclear weapons is left as it is," the opposition party said in a statement. It is not the North's poverty but its nuclear drive that threatens peace on the Korean peninsula, the party said, calling for the Seoul government to focus its efforts on resolving the North's nuclear drive.

The opposition party also described the government's emphasis on inter-Korean ties as a "political maneuver" aimed at staging inter-Korean summit ahead of the South's presidential election slated for December.

"The government and the ruling party should avoid mentioning the possibility of an inter-Korean summit as the nuclear issue is not resolved yet," GNP spokeswoman Na Kyung-won said.

The party expressed concerns that the country's ruling camp is pushing for summit talks with North Korea to influence South Korea's presidential election next year with popularity for the ruling camp remaining at record lows.

GNP lawmaker Chung Hyung-keun, a former senior intelligence official, said the two Koreas were in the final stage of discussions to hold an inter-Korean summit in this coming spring. "The former (South Korean) unification minister recently traveled to the North and met its leader Kim Jong Il (to discuss summit talks)," Chung said.

"If an inter-Korean summit was held in March or April, it would be a variable strong enough to sway the presidential race," he said.

The ruling Uri Party's popularity has plunged to under 10 percent, further widening the gap with the main opposition Grand National Party that garnered 45 percent. Surveys said some 70 percent of South Korean people expect the anti-communist GNP to take power in December's presidential election.

Polling agencies say an inter-Korean summit can boost the popularity of the ruling camp which has sought reconciliation with the North.

More and more ruling lawmakers and top government officials have recently called for an inter-Korean summit to help ease the North's nuclear crisis. President Roh Moo also has said he was ready to meet the North Korean leader "anytime and anywhere."

Source: United Press International

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